they are rare but they are there
There are two kinds of rhinoceros, the white rhino and the black rhino and I am proud to say that we have both at Sabi Sabi. The white rhinos are easy to find but it's the black rhino that you will only find with a mixture of hard work, patience and a pinch of luck. In the five years I have been at Sabi Sabi I have been privileged to see them on a couple of occasions.
I was still a tracker working with Lisa (ranger) when we went out on drive looking for white rhinos. White rhinos are relatively non-aggressive animals that love spending time in areas where the grass is short enough for them to feed on. We found rhino tracks and it wasn't long before we found them. The rhinos were all lying down when we saw them in the distance. As we got closer we noticed that although they were resting they were well aware of our approach. Suddenly one rhino got up and faced us. It was the only rhino up at that moment and it was then that we realized that it wasn't a white but a black rhino. I couldn't believe my eyes and Lisa was speechless. We sat there in disbelief.
A year had gone by and in the meantime I qualified as a ranger. I remember this drive like it was yesterday. We found a lot of animals on safari that morning and in particular a fairly good amount of rhinos. We had found so many rhinos that when Polly, my tracker, pointed to rhinos lying down not too far from where we were, I decided that we were not going to approach them but that we would slowly creep past, not disturbing them from their rest. We were almost in line with the rhinos when one suddenly got up and came charging towards us. It felt like I was reliving my first sighting of a black rhino from just over a year previously, but this time this black rhino wasn't tolerating us at all. I stopped the Land Rover immediately without switching off the engine. The black rhino stopped charging but stood its ground. I placed the vehicle into reverse and slowly released the clutch. The moment the black rhino heard the wheels on the soft sand he charged again. Polly threw his hands up in the air making us looking even bigger than what we were while uttering instructions to the rhino to calm down. The black rhino flung around and ran towards the white rhinos that had been witness to all of this. As quickly as the black rhino came charging towards us he also disappeared into the thickets with his white rhino friends.
Third time lucky. Unfortunately I couldn't share this special sighting with guests due to us being on a training drive with the Safari Manager. While out on a rangers only or on a new ranger training drive we don't go as much off road as we would do with guests, reducing unnecessary impact on the bush. We saw rhinos not too far off the road, well hidden in the thickets. I think both Nadia (ranger) and I picked up our binoculars thinking that it was odd for white rhinos to be hidden in the thickets. Upon closer investigation we were both shocked and so surprised to find a black rhino mother and her calf joined by a white rhino female. Nadia was so excited about our finding that she couldn't help stuttering when she radioed in the news so that the guests out on drive that evening could share in our rare sighting. It was rare but there they were: it was beautiful.
Since the 2009 sighting of the black rhino female and her calf I would try and drive past the area where we saw them as often as I could. Black rhinos are known for being secretive animals and will shy away from an approaching vehicle even before they are spotted. It took two years for me to see black rhinos again.
I went to the Sabie River with my guests and on our way back they questioned me about black rhino and if they had ever been seen at Sabi Sabi. Along the road we were travelling there were large quantities of Tree Euphorbia, which is a poisonous species only eaten by two animals at Sabi Sabi. One of those is the black rhino. Not too far from where we were discussing black rhinos we saw a rhino lying down. Some of the guests joked and said that it might be a black rhino. As we got closer to the rhino it got up and when Mike, my tracker, yelled with excitement that it was a black rhino, the laughter on the vehicle fell into an absolute silence. Not wanting to risk him running away, we sat and watched a sub adult black rhino stare back at us for quite some time before he leisurely turned around and walked deeper into the thickets.
It is truly magical for me to see any of the two species of rhinos at Sabi Sabi knowing their history and how far they have come.